CROWLEY, La. (KLFY) — To keep the rice industry in Louisiana, the state’s largest rice mill is upgrading. Supreme Rice in Crowley is almost two years into a $20M expansion.

The Supreme Rice Mill in Crowley is among one of the oldest in the state, and to keep up with the newer crop of competitors, they must modernize and go against the grain.

“We look at it more as this isn’t for us anymore,” expressed Supreme Rice Vice President John Morgan.

With almost 100 years in the business, Louisiana’s largest rice mill is preparing for the next century. Morgan stated the whole facility will eventually all be redone and grow from 50,000 sq ft to 75,000 sq ft.

“When people ask why are you doing this? It’s a function of a little bit of we have to do it in order to survive,” Morgan added.

Many of the newer mills are better equipped to meet the quality standards of modern markets. The Supreme Rice’s Mill expansion has multiple phases. Starting with the rough rice, then the by-products section, and most recently the shipping area including rail lines, packaging, and storage.

“This is modernizing, right here. Automation,” Morgan commented on the new packaging facility equipped with robotic arms to place rice bags on pallets and wrap them for shipping. Morgan admitted, “The tricky part is updating and modernizing.”

According to Morgan, Supreme is probably halfway through the project, but it might be another two years before they get to the final phase, rebuilding the mill with twice the capacity. This gives them more capabilities for the domestic market of U.S. grocery stores and restaurants which only made up a small fraction of their business before. Now they have expanded into Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and select areas on the east coast. Texas is a state market they hope to enter soon.

“We’ve got to have the ability to make sure we have enough rice to meet these guys’ needs year-round otherwise you’ll lose them,” Morgan warned.

Supreme Rice said the decision came down to renovating an Arkansas or Crowley facility first. Their analysis showed if they would have expanded in Arkansas, America’s top rice-producing state, it could have reduced their operations in Louisiana.

“Because there have been mills built in the last year, moderns mills that are just a lot more efficient, easier to maintain,
and we’re trying to get to that next level,” Morgan concluded. “I mean I hope to see my grandkids and their kids have a rice industry here in South Louisiana.”

Supreme Rice said due to inflation the over $20M project will take longer than anticipated, likely taking a pause before rebuilding the mill. The company currently employs over 200 people.